DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Robert Lewandowski gave a hug after the game and paid tribute. Guillermo Ochoa did it again at the World Cup.
Mexico’s tenacious goalkeeper stopped Lewandowski, one of the game’s best strikers, in a second-half penalty that saved a draw between El Tri and Poland.
A loss in the match would have dealt a blow to Mexico’s bid to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup for the eighth time. Ochoa, 37, joins an exclusive club that includes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in his fifth consecutive appearance at soccer’s biggest tournament.
But this was not the first time that the goalkeeper with the bald head of age did not appear at the World Cup.
Back in 2014, the player known by the nickname Memo made six saves in a scoreless draw with Brazil, who were among the favorites as tournament hosts.
He denied headers from Brazilian stars Neymar and Thiago Silva and later called it the “game of a lifetime”.
Four years ago in Russia, he made nine saves in Mexico’s 1-0 win over reigning champions Germany in the first group stage.
“Whenever we need Memo, he’s always there,” defenseman Jorge Sanchez said.
Qatar could be the last World Cup for Ochoa and he will be looking to get past the round of 16 and play in the tough “quinto partido” – the fifth game. It’s something that eluded El Tri since hosting the 1986 tournament in Mexico.
“There have been great players in history who didn’t have the opportunity to play in the World Cup, so for me to be able to play in five is amazing, amazing,” Ochoa said. “But of course I want this World Cup to be completely different and the best ever for Mexico.”
Within minutes of Tuesday’s draw, social media was flooded with memes portraying Ochoa as Brick Wall, Superman, Neo from The Matrix and even Jesus.
But Ochoa, who plays for Club America in Mexico’s Liga MX, later showed preparation rather than prowess.
“We will work with goalkeeper coach Gustavo Pinero for these two weeks or maybe a month. “But when you see Lewandowski’s penalties, it’s always difficult, it’s difficult because you’re going to take 15-20 penalties, so you never know which side to choose,” Ochoa said. “I’m happy to have taken the penalty in the end. He is a great striker.”
Ochoa began his career at Club America at the age of 18 and played there for seven years before touring Europe with teams in France, Spain and Belgium. He made a comeback with Club America in 2019.
Even though the opening game ended in a draw, the save helped calm critics who questioned the team’s form and criticized coach Gerardo Martino for his roster selection – at least for a moment.
Mexico finished second in CONCACAF qualifying, behind Canada and ahead of the United States. But the team dropped three of five matches heading into the World Cup.
On Saturday, El Tri face Messi and Argentina at the Lusail Stadium, who unexpectedly lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. Despite the defeat, La Albiceleste remained one of the favorites of the tournament.
“We have a tough opponent in the next game, but Mexico is also a tough opponent,” Ochoa said. “We worked really hard. We prepared ourselves.”
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